Pack and Sled

Since I was packing across a flat lake, I dragged a sled. That allowed me to carry all of my ice fishing gear, plus a few amenities.

We all know that our kids do dumb things because of their friend’s influences. But I’m not really sure that I’m any different. I attended a seminar on winter camping at Sierra Trading Post, and Bryan Wilkins talked about how much fun it is to cross-country ski and snowshoe into the backcountry and then camp for a few days.

While winter camping, he packs snow with a snow shovel and cuts blocks with a snow saw to make chairs. He even taught us how to make an igloo and said, “If you do it right, it’s nice and warm.” That is, a toasty 20 degrees.

Some of the tips that he gave us include:

1. Drape damp socks over your shoulders under your coat to dry them out.

2. Drink plenty of water.

3. Place water bottles upside down in your tent/snow cave. They freeze from the top, which saves then from freezing up at the nozzle.

4. Go to bed with dry socks. The ones you hiked in will be wet and damp.

I had to schedule a trip. Misery loves company, so I called everyone I thought I might be able to sucker into going, but they all said, “Forget it.” OK, I’ll do it by myself. This might be brutal.

I decided to hit a mountain lake and set up a camp out by an island and do some ice fishing. I turned off the main highway, and the snow was pretty deep, but I was still able to drive in. I loaded the sled, threw on my backpack and took off. The ice looked plenty thick, but deep down you still worry about breaking through the ice with a big pack on.

I soon got to where I wanted to go. The wind was steady out of the northwest, so I set up on the west side of an island. That way, if it blew hard, at least I’d blow against the island and not across the lake. I threw up my tent and gathered a little firewood. Next, I went out and drilled some holes and started ice fishing.

The wind didn’t die down. In fact, it got worse. The ground blizzards were filling my holes faster than I could scoop them out. Finally, I figured that I might as well go to bed and let it blow over.

I ate dinner and then crawled into my sleeping bag. In the middle of the night, the wind started howling. A couple times I thought my tent and I were going to tumble up against the cliff, but I stayed aright.

The next morning I woke up and checked out the scene. Of course my holes had drifted shut but I had one decent perch. By now the wind had died down, so I built a fire, heated up a pot of coffee, ate breakfast and then hit the fishing scene.

The fishing was pretty slow, but I was getting hits periodically. As you can imagine, I had to scoop my holes nonstop to keep them from freezing up. In a couple of hours, a guy drove up on a snow machine and asked if he could fish by me. We built a fire and fished for a few hours.

Well, it’d come time to head out. When I got 15 minutes from my truck, I saw another truck driving out.

Because of ground blizzards, the road had already drifted shut big time. There were good 2-foot drifts. I had no choice but to get shoveling. I had a good mile to go.

Luckily, another rig was behind me. I don’t know if they were good samaritans or if they just had to get me out of the way so they could get out. But either way, they helped me get out.

Well, it’d been fun. I think all the hardcore trips can build up your confidence so you know what you can handle and live through in the future. As we close, I’d like to encourage you to try out an extreme winter camping trip.

It was actually fun. The only thing I might change is it’d be good to have someone with me. But my daughters and their boyfriends have long since become fair weather campers.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.